Friday, July 30, 2010

In Lieu of BoatCam

Like the Olde West, but with a lakefront view
The French priest and explorer Jaques Marquette founded the St. Ignace mission in 1671.  In 2010 the place has the look of a western cowboy town, don't you think?

It's probably just the architecture of the period; much of the West was settled in the second half of the 19th century, which is when St. Ignace was enjoying a bit of an economic boom, as the railroad came in.  

There were even ferries that took train cars across the straits of Mackinac.  The enormous ferry dock is still there on the waterfront, overgrown with weeds.  Today the main economic drivers seem to be tourism and a Native American-run casino six miles up the road.  Popular snacks at local restaurants: smoked whitefish and "pasties." (We tried both)

We stayed three days in St. Ignace, waiting out the weather.  Each morning the forecast said, "Wind 20 knots, waves 4 to 6 feet," which is more than a canal boat can handle! Thursday morning we were up at 6:00 AM to take advantage of a good forecast.  As the sun rose we were creeping out of the harbor; the moon, just past full, was high in the western sky.

A few miles down the coast we came to a landmark for the region--and a structure that marked another turning point in our voyage.  As we sailed under the famous Mackinac Bridge, we officially left Lake Huron to enter Lake Michigan.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Boat Chores

Next step:
Holystone the decks
Today is what the Navy, back in the days of actual sailing ships, called a “make-and-mend” day--a day off so sailors could mend their uniforms, which I assume got pretty ragged running up the rigging.  For us, it’s a day in port (we’re still in St. Ignace, Michigan,) to do boat chores. 

Besides the obvious stuff (laundry, groceries, post office, mop the floors, clean the heads) I painted the seating area in the bow (which we didn’t have time to do before we left), while Bill touched up the dings on Dragonfly's hull and installed a multi-outlet strip behind the kitchen counter--so we can recharge all our electronics simultaneously, instead of one at a time.

Other weekly boat chores include: topping off the freshwater tanks (see photos on next page) and getting the waste tanks pumped out (not as horrible as it sounds).  Since we carry our water with us, we’re mindful of how we use it.  We really DON’T let the water run when we brush our teeth!  Meanwhile I have read and memorized the instructions for "how to wash dishes with hardly any water," from the amusingly titled Good Boatkeeping.  

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Great Lakes Endangered Species: The Old-Fashioned Lighthouse

The "American Great Loop Cruisers Association" has an online store that sells swag—T-shirts, ball caps, and other logo-wear. One of the most most popular items, turns out, is a set of place mats with a map of the Great Loop route.

After a stormy traverse from Baie Fine, we were glad to see
the Strawberry Island Lighthouse, signaling safe harbor in Little Current
My parents got these place mats when we left on our trip.  They tell us they enjoy checking the blog over morning coffee, and then consulting their place mats, to see where we are.

Yesterday Mom wanted to know, “Did you see the StrawberryIsland Lighthouse?”  Apparently that’s one of the color photos decorating the placemats.

Yup, we did!  This lighthouse is near the town of Little Current.  It’s typical of the lighthouses we saw along Georgian Bay and the North Channel:  white clapboard sides, red roof, classic design. When you see one of these lighthouses, you feel compelled to photograph it!

Coincidentally, when we were IN Little Current, the local paper had a lengthy article on lighthouse preservation in Canada.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Aruba, Jamaica . . . Michigan!

So based on these pictures you might think we have suddenly been teleported to Jamaica.

Actually, we stopped in yesterday at Mackinac Island, Michigan. (Pronounce it Mack-i-NAW,  not Mack-i-NACK, or else they'll know you are from away.)

The limestone substrate and shallow waters combine to create this tropical effect, with turquoise water and white beaches.

Another cool thing: The island's been a tourist destination since just after the Civil War, and back when the automobile was a novelty, the town fathers decided to ban it. Cars are STILL banned, and residents and tourists get around on bikes or in horse-drawn carriages. (Pix on next page.)

What IS It?

No guesses on the "What IS It" challenge from July 24, eh?  Should I give the answer?

That piece of machinery with all the crazy wheels actually is called a "crazy wheel," and it's a kind of braking system for logging sleds that areloaded with timber.  A cable was attached to the sled so that, as horses pulled the load downhill, it didn't go crashing forward and mow the horses down.  The cable wrapped around the wheels to generate the braking action.

Here's an easier one, also from the Lumber Museum in Blind River.  Yup, it's a hammer, but notice it has a number on the pounding face.  This hammer is never used for pounding nails; it IS using in logging.  So, what IS it?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bbbbback in the U.S. of A

On Friday the weather forecast was for a calm day, followed by three days of stormy weather and high waves.  "Let's hightail it!" we said, and instead of inching around the coast, we pointed the nose of the boat south, across the channel, toward Drummond Island and U.S. customs.

One sailboat followed us, at first just a bit of mast showing above the horizon, then gradually showing her hull as she drew closer.  We watched on the chart plotter as the dividing line separating U.S. and Canadian waters grew closer.  Just as we crossed the line, the sailboat shot ahead, showing us her American flag at the stern--also homeward bound.  We kissed and rang the bell.

Bittersweet skies
It was bittersweet.  We'd had weeks of perfect weather, eye-popping scenery, and interactions with Canadians who were funny and kind.  But the general wisdom, when you are doing the Great Loop is "Get off Lake Michigan by Sept. 1" and based on our rate of speed, we knew we needed to move on.

At customs--a marina dock--we worried: What would happen to the most carefully tended house plants in North America? The agent, an overweight young woman in a creased uniform and scuffed boots, was stern. "They shouldn't have let these into Canada."  "Um, but they did, and they're from the U.S. originally," we said rather plaintively.  She grumbled a bit more, handed us a paper with the rules and regs, chastened us a bit more, but in the end the pet plants got to stay.

C'mon, let's drag!
A narrow channel, De Tour Passage, leads along the coast of Drummond Island to Lake Huron proper.  Big freighters use these waters, and we joked that Dragonfly was excited to see her big brothers.  She wanted to race!  

We cruised side by side for a while. But though it looks slow, this freighter was pushing up a monster bow wave, taller than our boat.  Outside the channel, the freighter kicked into gear and steamed off over the horizon.

What IS It?

Two levers control this device.
The town of Blind River, on the North Shore of the North Channel was a locus for lumbering at the turn of the 20th century; the previous "What IS It?" challenge showed the massive incinerator used to burn wood chips at the shore-side sawmill.  (Miles Johnson guessed correctly.)

The town has a small museum dedicated to the history of logging.  The part we liked best was an amazing film--shot in the late 1930s or early 1940s, by the look of the clothes and cars--documenting life in a lumber camp.

The movie shows two skinny young guys felling a huge white pine with just a couple of axes; men walking on (and--brrrr!--falling off) logs floating on freezing water during a lumber drive; a cook stove being loaded on a boat while still smoking hot (the boat shoves off downriver with just a few inches of freeboard, while the cook calmly stirs a pot of beans, making sure the men will have a hot meal at day's end); a similar boat, loaded with the men's bedrolls, swamping as it navigates foaming rapids; and some fascinating, horrifying footage of work horses dragging sleds loaded two stories high with mounds of logs along roads that have been iced to ease the way.

In one scene the route goes down a steep hill. The stout, thick-legged horses actually prance to avoid the unwieldy sled that threatens to crash through their heels.  It's as tense a scene as anything you've seen in a Hollywood horror movie.

Afterward we walked around outside and saw some of the very machinery that had been featured in this film--including THIS instrument.  So, what IS it?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Searching for Self-Sufficiency

Our guidebook said two marinas on the North Channel were powered by wind turbines.   Both towers had been in place for more than a decade, so wind power was hardly a novelty there. The turbine in the town of Spanish, said the literature, was “the first such device in North America to supply electricity to a ground-source heat pump.”  Any extra power it generated was fed directly into Canada’s hydro-power grid.

“Cool!” we thought.  These are small towns (a few hundred to a few thousand people) in a remote area.  Must be costly to run transmission lines out here.  Seems like a great idea to develop energy self-sufficiency.

As we approached Spanish, our flag flapped in a steady breeze of about ten miles per hour, but the wind turbine—an unusual design with just two blades, oriented horizontally—was still.

“No,” said the girl dockhand at the marina.  “That thing hasn’t worked in about three years.  It needs a part, and it has to be shipped from Europe, and it’s very expensive, and even if they get the part, it might not solve the problem.  That’s what I hear.”


Friday, July 23, 2010

You, Too, Can Be the Proud Owner of an Odd-looking, Steel-hulled Boat

Back in Killarney, we were captivated by the small fleet of "fishing turtles," the distinctive steel-hulled boats used for commercial fishing on the Great Lakes.

If you ALSO think these oddball boats are cute, I have some great news.  You could be a proud owner!  We spotted this one for sale in the town of Blind River.  The Captain looks tempted . . .

What IS It?

Jim Fong and Scott Berger have correctly identified the structure in the What IS It? quiz of 7/21 as a firehouse.  Great detective work, guys!  But the question remains, what is the function of that funny- looking onion dome?  Any firefighters out there know the answer?

Meanwhile, today's "What IS It?" entry really had US perplexed when we first spotted it.  That evil-looking tower on the left (it's pitch black) is SO large,  you can see it from miles away.  Local boaters know it as an important regional landmark for navigation.   Don Heller, I can read your mind, and No, it's NOT the World Headquarters for Trojan, Inc.   So, what IS it?

Don't let your boss know that you are wasting valuable office time figuring these out.

Mind the Gap

Danger, professor at work
Bill was stressing.  He needed to be available by phone Monday afternoon to take part in a grad student's dissertation defense.

But each place we stopped, cell phone coverage was unreliable or nonexistent.  We climbed the hills in Little Current, as directed by local residents. Half a bar.   Scrambled up sheer granite faces on undeveloped islands.  No bars.

Luckily, in the town of Spanish we found both a very nice marina (the main building, with a gym, restaurant, and store, cleverly doubles as the town's community center and is designed to look like a boat under sail) AND a strong cell phone signal.  

The photo at left shows our boat's flexibility:  It's an old-fashioned canal boat!  It's a high-tech office with video-conference facility!

From Spanish we continued west, clutching our chart scribbled with pencilled notations about the best anchorages in the North Channel as recommended by Roy, our friend back in Little Current.

We wanted to look into Beardrop Harbor, a protected bit of water sheltered behind a long, skinny island that parallels the shore.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What IS It?

Miles Johnson correctly identified the photo from the July 19 "What IS It" quiz as a fishing boat, and specifically a "fish tug," also known as a "fishing turtle." These boats were designed specifically for the fisheries on the Great Lakes.

Fisherman on these boats use gill nets to snag their catch, pickerel, which (yes, this surprised me, too, because in small bodies of water in New England we think of pickerel as solitary) can form schools.  We saw several of these boats docked next to the chips truck formerly known as Mr. Perch, with their transparent monofilament nets loaded in shallow metal pans, stacked on deck, ready to be deployed.

Congratulations, Miles, and a tacky postcard is headed your way.

And now for today's quiz.  We spotted the structure at left in a small town along the Trent-Severn Waterway, and I've been dying to include it in a blog post ever since.

I'll tell you what it ISN'T--it's not a church steeple.  So, what IS it?

Winner gets a shout-out on the blog and a tacky postcard--not to mention the deep satisfaction of demonstrating publicly your knowledge of obscure architectural features.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Yacht's Greener Than Your Yacht

Pack o' pre-teens checks out SlowBoat at the town marina.
Last night we stayed in the marina in Spanish (yup, that’s the name of the town), where a crowd of children goozled the boat.

A solar-powered canal boat.  Now how exactly did the Captain get the idea for THAT?  Mostly I think it was the flat roof—acres of real estate, just begging to be gainfully employed.

Cruising along, we keep our eyes open for OTHER boats that use sustainable technologies--particularly solar panels.  We get the impression that solar is quite popular, both on sailboats AND powerboats.  

We got independent confirmation of this idea when we  docked in the town of Brit, back in Georgian Bay. Michael Kelly and his wife stopped by to say "hi."  Kelly works for a company that specializes in marine electronics. “Everyone wants solar panels now—that’s a huge part of our work,” he said.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bill Goes Swimming (Again)

Aunt Mary sez: "More photos please!"  We'll do our best.
This is Croker Island. Lots of blueberries!
My colleague Jill at WPSU started a pool when I left town--"How many days on the boat till Cynthia tears her hair out and runs home screaming?"  Place your bets now.

Meanwhile, my colleague Emily has started a SECOND pool: "How many times on this trip will Bill go swimming in the name of boat safety?"  The score so far: FIVE. He's gone into the drink once with a large mallet (to restore a propeller that was slipping out of place) and four times to remove water weeds from the prop.

I COULD Be a Police Informant

Gettin' goozled at the town dock
When he's on land, the Captain likes to ride a motorcycle.  He tours with a couple of buddies. One of them has a custom Harley-Davidson, glittering with chrome. The other has a monster big racing bike.  

When the three of them park their wheels at a restaurant to onboard a piece of pie, Harley lovers come up to tell buddy number one, "Nice bike, man!" and young guys pining after fast wheels come up to tell buddy number two, "Nice bike, man" . . . and no one notices the Captain's bike, which is a tasteful Honda ST1100 completely lacking in chrome or large exhaust pipes or  racing stripes. The Cap'n has managed to be philosophical about this, mostly.  

Meanwhile THIS trip is making up for all those motorcycle snubs--indeed we're starting to understand how (insert name of celebrity here) feels:  Wherever you go, people come running up, they tell you they admire you, they want to chat you up.  This boat's as much of a chick magnet as a cute baby in a stroller or a fuzzy puppy; motor into any isolated lagoon, and pretty, suntanned women paddle up in kayaks to admire you.  It gets so you expect the adulation--you take it for granted that everyone wants to meet you, admire you, hear your story.

What is It?

The winners of the last SlowBoat "What IS It?" quiz were GregP and Curt.  They correctly identified the small, light gray building spotted along the shores of Collins Inlet, near Killarney, as an ice fishing shack that had been hauled onto the shore for the summer.  We saw dozens of these shacks along the length of the channel--some are simple and some are quite elaborate.

Now for today's "What IS It?"  Yup, it's a boat.  The question is, What KIND of a boat?   What do you DO with a boat like this?  Be specific!  Winner gets a shout-out on the blog and a tacky postcard from our current location.

Friday, July 16, 2010

What Is It?

Announcing a SlowBoat Contest! From time to time we'll post oddball pictures and ask you to guess, "What IS It?"  First correct answer will get a shout-out on the blog and a tacky postcard by snail mail.

The photo at right was taken in Collins Inlet, where we saw dozens of similar buildings.  We can tell you what it ISN'T--it's not a summer cottage.  So, what IS it?

There's also a (somewhat new) tab on the blog called "Laughs."  Check periodically for your laugh of the day.

And let us know if you'd like to visit our boat.  We love visitors!

Did you know that you can follow this blog on Twitter or Facebook?  Each time there's a new post, you'll be notified. Check the links on the home page (and if you are not sure what to do, ask the nearest teenager).

We are docked in the town of Little Current and have internet access!  Another new post follows this one.

Looking for Mr. Perch

Yes, the water really IS that blue.  Actually, it's even MORE blue--aquamarine, shading into pure clear turquoise.

And the water is clear!  It's a bit startling--but quite wonderful--to be gliding in 20 feet of water, look over the side, and see all the way to a sandy bottom dotted with rocks.

Aid to Navigation

Usually navigation marks consist of red and green buoys, but on our passage through Collins Channel, approaching Killarney, we saw this directive, neatly summarizing our trip philosophy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In Lieu of BoatCam

We've been honing our anchoring-out skills the past two nights. Sunday night we anchored "Mediteranean style" (anchor at the bow, stern tied to a tree!) in a cove in the Bustard Islands.  The place was like a marina, there were so many sailboats and cruisers tucked into every nook and cranny. Last night we were in a gorgeous little cove off Beaverstone Bay, and all by ourselves.

We each took the dinghy out for a nice, fast row . . . which is how I got this photo.  We rarely get this perspective of our vessel, and I thought to myself, so THAT's what we look like to passing boats.  No wonder Trudy Jo, on Rice Lake, said, "I saw you coming up the channel and thought, "Here come the Beverly Hillbillies!"

Monday, July 12, 2010

Not for the Insect-o-phobic

Our first day on the Trent-Severn, a large female dragonfly rode with us for quite a while, using our antenna as a perching post.  We presume she’d read the name on the stern and figured we were friendly.

Later, at our first anchorage--in a quiet cove in Lost Channel, we shared breakfast with THIS friendly dragonfly.

If you don’t care for insects you wouldn’t like this trip.  We’re outdoors pretty much all day, so we interact with LOTS of different kinds of insects.  

The dragonflies are welcome visitors.  So are the bumblebees.  Each day it seems some bumblebee blunders offshore and finds our hanging basket of flowers, or our rooftop herb garden.  It's a comic domestic touch to be surrounded by nothin' but water, yet to be in the midst of this peaceful backyardish scene.  One bumblebee rested quite comfortably for close to half an hour in the sun on a leaf of basil. 

But not all our guests are so welcome. Inevitably, as the sun sinks, we get less-welcome guests: mosquitoes by the hundreds--no, the thousands.  No, the tens of thousands.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

We Survived Hangdog Channel

Thursday night, in Pengallie Bay, a woman asked where we were headed next.  “Pointe au Baril,” I said, giving it the French pronunciation, Pwanht oh bah-reel.  “That’s Point o’ Barrel.” she said, a bit sharply. (We’ve detected a bit of anti-French sentiment in some of the folks we meet).

The English pronunciation does point out where the town got its name.  It was a fishing settlement in the late 1800s, and villagers made a kind of primitive lighthouse on a rocky point, from a barrel topped with a lantern.

The point has a real lighthouse today--and a replica barrel (at left). The waters are not quite so tricky to navigate in the 21st century as they were in 1920, when a buoytender—the boat that goes out in the spring, amid the ice chunks, to PLACE those helpful buoys—went down with all hands. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

World Famous Fried Fish and Aerodrome

Multiple flights a day! It's like O'Hare with scenery!  
On Wednesday we cruised to an area called Sans Souci--and to a harbor on Fryingpan Island.   

We’d been advised to watch out for floatplanes coming and going at the dock.  And sure enough, a small white plane circled and landed on the water as we were approaching. 

This is the home of “Henry’s Fish Restaurant and Aerodrome.” It’s been in existence for decades and we understand it’s a “must-stop” destination if you are boating in the area.

There really was a Henry, a local fisherman, as I understand it, who opened a small restaurant to sell some of his catch.  The place has grown . . .  Henry retired . . .and he sold the business to a genial guy in a safari shirt named Paul (who answers to Henry, because that’s what people expect).

Adventures in Anchoring

Squint . . .  and it's the Coast of Maine!

So we’ve left the safety and security of the canal systems our boat was made for (the Erie and Trent-Severn) and are out on Big Water again—this time, Lake Huron.  We’re cruising Georgian Bay, in the northeastern part of the lake, the area called “30,000 Islands.”   

And it really does seem like there are that many islands—rounded mounds of pink granite sprouting graceful white pines that lean away from the wind.

Sailboaters famously come here to “gunkhole”—slowly exploring the shallow parts of remote little bays and islands.  Rather than stay at a marina, with its dock, store, showers, and services, the thing to do is to“anchor out.”  

It’s not exactly wilderness camping, since you have all the comforts on your boat—soft bed, three-burner cookstove, fridge with beer—but you’re pretty much out in the middle of nowhere. If things go wrong, you need to handle them yourself.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Slowboat Goes for a Train Ride

Humans have invented four different kinds of locks for use on canal systems.  One of the cool things about Canada's Trent - Severn Waterway is that it has all four kinds:  1) conventional locks, where water goes in, and your boat floats up; 2) flight locks (that's two or more conventional locks, all in a row); 3) lift locks (see our entry for the Peterborough Lift Lock); and 4) marine railways.

And here's what it looks like as your boat is being loaded onto a marine railway, the Trent-Severn's "Big Chute Railway."  See the white motor boat? our boat is just behind it, loaded onto its own set of sling straps.

The railway carries as many as 6 boats over a hill, in the process helping boats avoid a narrow and turbulent stretch of river called the Big Chute, where water flows fast down a rocky canyon.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Coast o' Maine

We are now off the Trent-Severn Waterway and cruising in Georgian Bay.  Scenery is amazing--pink granite cliffs and white pines, like the coast of Maine.  Our phone card is not performing as advertised and marinas here don't have internet, but stay tuned and we'll catch up soon, including a slide show of our boat going for a ride on a train!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

In Lieu of BoatCam

Marinas have been crowded for Canada Day weekend.  Even lock walls-usually a reliable place to stay, have been full up.  On Friday it got later and later . . . and no place to dock. We pored over our books and charts and found this peaceful breakwater not far from the town of Rosedale.  Best of all: no charge!

In Lieu of BoatCam

One challenge of our trip is: Where to stay each night?  

We aimed to stay in Bobcageon, Ontario, on Canada Day (which is like America's Fourth of July--the biggest vacation weekend of the summer).   

Of course, the marina in town was full up. But we rafted up to the gas dock and looked desolate, and the owner kindly made a place for us.  

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Prepare to Repel Boarders

So far, cruising the Trent-Severn has been peaceful. Lakefront cottages.  Tracts of forest.  

But, trouble loomed.  As we approached the lock at Bolsover, we spotted a Viking.  

Well, actually it was a guy, paddling a yellow plastic kayak, wearing a Viking helmet--the kind with large plastic horns.  "Prepare to repel boarders!"  we yelled.

Little did we know the peril we faced.  The Viking turned out to be harmless, but the crew was about to be kidnapped by pirates. We happened to glance behind and saw that we were being stormed by six pirate ships, each one flying the skull and crossbones, each one with a frightening pirate captain at the helm, and each with a crew of alluring pirate wenches.

Friday, July 2, 2010

What This Boat Lacks

Insert caption to photo below:  Bill is saying "Darn, I knew there was one more modification I needed to make to OUR boat."

We docked next to this boat while we were in Peterborough.  Houseboats with slides are very popular.  Alas most houseboaters have not read "Chapman's Boating Etiquette" and can do all kinds of imaginative things while trying to tie up in a lock.

Here's a particularly nice houseboat--a house, on a boat!--decked out for Canada Day, which was yesterday. Canada Day is kind of like the fourth of July without the revolutionary fervor--fireworks and parades, but no harking back to glorious battles.  (All the newspapers were full of reports of the Queen's visit to Canada this week.  I wonder what she is going to do with my pepper spray?)  

One good thing about houseboats:  They are even slower than WE are.  We were cruising up Pigeon Lake yesterday, into the wind, with waves rolling at us, just one in a long line of houseboats, lumbering like elephants, nose to tail, up the lake towards the Canada Day celebrations in the little town of Bobcageon.  And, drumroll please: Dragonfly actually passed another boat! (It was very exciting, in a super slow-mo kind of way.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Best Sustainable Free Ride in Town

When you leave Peterborough, heading north, you encounter one of the main attractions of the Trent Severn Waterway:  The Peterborough Lift Lock.

Look at the right hand side, up at the top.  See the structure that looks like a shelf, in between the middle and right-most towers?  That's a big ol' pan of water, and your boat takes a ride in it!